Vol. 37 Issue 1/2 - 2014
From the editor's desk
Welcome to Anthropology Southern Africa 2014
Heike Becker, Ilana van Wyk & Kathleen Lorne McDougall
SPECIAL SECTION: Life, form, substance: anthropological investigations
Life, form, substance: anthropological investigations
Fiona C. Ross
Exit/Exist: Gregory Maqoma's dance and the call to life
Patricia C. Henderson
The paper explores life-giving qualities of creativity and self-stylisation in the performance art and dance of contemporary South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma. Placing his performance Exit/Exist in conversation with social theories of becoming, desire and futurity explored in the work of anthropologists Elizabeth Povinelli and Henrietta Moore, and the philosopher Elizabeth Grosz, the paper gestures towards a vitalist understanding of sociality. The approach suggests potentiality rather than limitation, fragmentation and depletion. In the face of a neo-liberal world order and the lingering influence of apartheid history, much of South African social analysis continues to reiterate forms of structural violence that constrain lives. Such an emphasis cannot account for the ways in which individuals sometimes force celebratory and defiant images of themselves into the public realm, issuing into being new publics, locally and abroad.
Subjects: creativity, dance, memory, potentiality, self-stylisation
Just living: genealogic, honesty and the politics of apartheid time
Kathleen Lorne McDougall
“We were just living,” I was told of growing up an Afrikaner as apartheid was born. Is it possible for living at this time to be anything but political? To say “we were just living” of being an Afrikaner at this time is a political statement as much as a claim to there being a time outside of politics, a claim to being apolitical. Based on fieldwork with Afrikaner genealogists, genetic disease scientists and separatists, this paper considers the deliberative constitution of a time outside “the political” that is, nevertheless, always already political. This is a creative time that makes it possible to change history and express changed political points of view. It can also be a space for disingenuous disavowal of the aggressive nature of apartheid, and the history of present-day privilege. Genealogic suggests that the imbrication of life and politics be thought of in terms of temporality, and in relation to conceptions of history, destiny, contingency and honesty.
Subjects: Afrikaner, culture, genealogy, historiography, life, politics, post-apartheid, temporality
Knowledge of life: health, strength and labour in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
The article examines the production of new modes of calculation, calibration and measurement of bodies at work in the timber plantations of northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa — modes that echo older, diverse technologies of self and health while producing new ways of talking about the body and its social context. I describe two sets of substances that augment wellbeing for those who work the plantations, one in the form of a nutrition intervention and the other a class of popular curatives that operate in the registers of traditional medicine, vitamin supplement, and herbal tonic. I track the concepts and techniques of measurement, calibration and intervention in this locale in order to understand how they employ and generate ideas about culture, history, and wellbeing to produce new populations available for labour — as timber plantation labourers and as compliant HIV surveillance subjects.
Subjects: health, life, labour, measurement, vitalism
Milk and management: breastfeeding as a project
Miriam H.A. Waltz
Ideas about motherhood among middle-class women in South Africa recently seem to have shifted toward more “intensive mothering,” partly enabled by class privilege resulting from highly unequal labour relations. In this context breastfeeding and other mothering practices are approached as a “project” that can be managed through planning, measuring and the application of medical expertise. Tracing the breastfeeding experiences of highly educated, middle-class women in the southern suburbs of Cape Town, I outline the paradoxical claims to personhood that women experience when trying to be “good mothers.” The “project approach” can be seen as a means to assemble contradictory expectations and values of motherhood and integrate them into everyday life. It also implies that these managerial approaches are suggestive of approaches to life more broadly.
Subjects: breastfeeding, intensive mothering, middle-class, motherhood, sacrifice
Mother of two children
Fiona C. Ross
The paper considers the place of the impersonal in the making of intimacies (in this case, the “mother-child dyad”), through examining examples of how temporality, grammar, measurement and knowledge are imbricated and naturalised in the events and processes of life-giving. Experimental in genre, the paper is expressive rather than rationalist, shifting between the personal voice and a more distanced analytic to unsettle taken-for-granted modes of scholarship and undo rigid distinctions between subjective and objective knowledge. Describing the interfaces and interleaving of embodied, intuitive and biomedical knowledge, I suggest that different modalities of knowledge, experience, intensity and duration weave together in the production of life, producing contradictions, contractions and expansions of the social world. Throughout, slightly tongue in cheek, I use the framing of “my culture” (a common South Africanism seldom used by English-speaking whites, who assume “culture” is elsewhere) to invite critical assessment and to reflect on the ways that individuals are uniquely positioned through socio-cultural practice. The refrain “I am the mother of two children” offers a heuristic through which to examine dyadic relations.
Subjects: birth, intuition, knowledge, life, mother-child dyad
Not knowing endings: an epilogue
Fiona C. Ross, Patricia Henderson, Kathleen Lorne McDougall & Thomas Cousins
As part of thinking about how life materialises in our work, four contributors — Fiona Ross (FR), Patricia Henderson (PH), Kathleen Lorne McDougall (KLM) and Thomas Cousins (TC) — met at a two-day workshop in June 2014. From our recorded discussion, we've crafted an epilogue that explores connections and points of productive divergence in the papers. It traces our engagement with the history of political-economic understandings of social life in southern Africa; questions of history, the archive and politics; the body; and modes of writing. Presented in conversational form, we offer it as an invitation to on-going discussions about the forms and formations of life in southern Africa.
Warriors of the rainbow nation? South African rugby after apartheid
In this article I seek to account for the special appeal of rugby to white, particularly Afrikaner, men in South Africa, by treating rugby as a social phenomenon. I suggest that at a metaphorical level formulaic elements of the sport resonate with those of modern military and bureaucratic institutions that were so prominent in the history of Afrikaners. However, whilst rugby embodies historical memories, Afrikaner men's participation in the sport is also geared towards the present. With reference to the autobiographies of three Springbok rugby captains, I argue that participation in the sport has become an important arena for dramatizing their contribution to nation building. In the micro-world of rugby, players perceive themselves as warriors who lay their bodies on the line for a new democratic nation.
Subjects: Afrikaners, masculinity, metaphor, rugby, South Africa, sport
The miracle workers: obstacles and opportunities for restoring sight to children in KwaZulu-Natal
Susan Levine, Lene Øverland & Prasidh Ramson
The case studies presented in this paper reflect on the experiences of parents and the caregivers of children from the province of KwaZulu-Natal who overcame multiple obstacles to prevent childhood blindness due to cataract. Borrowing Sarah Franklin's metaphor of an “obstacle course,” the paper plots the challenges facing ordinary people as they navigate processes of diagnosis, care and treatment for children with cataract. The research, originally spearheaded by Orbis Africa, an NGO dedicated to restoring sight in children, signals a critical shift in collaborative forms of knowledge production whereby the consultant anthropologist was not merely an add-on to a development project, but acknowledged for her unanticipated and often ambiguous research findings.
Subjects: blindness, cataract, children, eyes, sight, South Africa
Human rights critique in post-colonial Africa: practices among Luo in Western Kenya
Steve Ouma Akoth
This paper is written at a time when post-colonial Kenya has largely embraced the language of rights as both a means and an end to organising twenty-first century states and societies. The idea of rights traverses the human rights discourse as theory and builds on notions of ethnography of the particular. The post-colonial African subjects of human rights develop these notions of human rights by living a life of betwixt: by mingling the “modern” and “traditional” into a genre of rights they produce an approach that is not necessarily reflected in the United Nations-centred international human rights instruments. The paper calls for a re-reading of human rights in post-colonial Africa, not based on its philosophical origins or traces of “African imprints,” but rather by observing how ordinary people import, recast and produce ideas of human rights in their life worlds and everyday Kenya. This is what I call post-colonial critique.
Subjects: Africa, culture, human rights, Kenya, subjectivity
“An African way of doing things”: reproducing gender and generation
In this article I draw on ethnographic research conducted in the townships of Nyanga East and Khayelitsha, South Africa, to suggest a link between normative ideals about the relations between children and adults, normative practises around the care of children, and the high rates of early child bearing. I argue that the attempt to uphold these ideals is what creates fertile ground for the occurrence of a pregnancy during the teenage years. My investigation of the occurrence and management of teenage pregnancy draws attention to a marked and persistent discrepancy between normative ideals and practices. It suggests that the normative practices around the management of a teenage pregnancy and the care of children that have emerged contribute to the reproduction of a larger social system that allows for a pregnant teenager's successful moral transition to motherhood in the township.
Subjects: children, gender, generation, parenting, teenage pregnancy
Anthropology and Music
Anthropology and music: inter/disciplinary mutuality
REFLECTIONS: Anthropology and music: inter/disciplinary mutuality
Life in the field: anthropologist as refugee
David B. Coplan
Jyo nana wê! Coplan: an anthropologist's refuge in music
Cecil Wele Manona 1937–2013
Chris de Wet
Colin Murray 1948–2013
Inside African anthropology: Monica Wilson and her interpreters
The highest poverty: monastic rules and form-of-life
World of human rights: ambiguities of rights claiming in Africa
Steve Ouma Akoth